Hundreds missing after Chinese cruise ship capsizes

Divers pull passengers alive from inside vessel on Yangtze River

Divers have pulled two people alive from inside a capsized cruise ship in China and are preparing to rescue at least four more, state broadcaster CCTV said.

However, well over 400 people still missing on the Yangtze River.

Only 18 people are known to have survived the tragedy. The ship held 458 people, most of them elderly passengers.

At least seven swam ashore, but others were rescued more than 12 hours after the ship went down, when search teams climbed aboard the upside-down hull and heard people calling out.


Footage showed rescuers in orange life vests climbing on the hull, with one lying down tapping a hammer and listening for a response, then gesturing downward.

Divers pulled out a woman (65) and a man who had been trapped, CCTV said. It said four additional survivors had been found and were being rescued.

Other survivors include the captain and chief engineer.

Five people were confirmed dead in the accident in Hubei province last night during a cruise from Nanjing to the south-west city of Chongqing, the broadcaster and Xinhua News Agency said.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang is reported to be travelling to the accident site. Xinhua reported that President Xi Jinping had ordered a work team of the State Council, the country's Cabinet, to rush to the site to guide the rescue work.

The overturned ship drifted about 3km (almost two miles) downstream before coming to rest close to the river shore, where choppy waters made the rescue difficult.

The drift was a good sign for rescuers because it meant there was enough air inside to give it buoyancy, which could mean there are air pockets for survivors to breathe, said Chi-Mo Park, a professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering at South Korea's Ulsan University.

“It all depends how much space there is inside the vessel,” he said.

Xinhua quoted the captain and chief engineer as saying the ship sank quickly after being caught in a cyclone.

The Communist Party-run People’s Daily said the ship sank within two minutes. CCTV said the pair were under police custody.

CCTV said the four-level ship had been carrying 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency employees and 47 crew members. The broadcaster said most of the passengers were 50 to 80 years of age.

Many of the ship's passengers started from Shanghai, taking a bus to Nanjing for the departure to Chongqing.

Several rescue ships have been searching the waters and divers are deployed. Rescue personnel are said to be trying to determine whether they can right the sunken ship.

More than 50 boats and 3,000 people have been involved in search efforts.

The Eastern Star measured was capable of carrying a maximum of 534 people, CCTV reported.

It is owned by the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp, which focuses on tourism routes in the popular Three Gorges river canyon region.

Incidents of this size are uncommon in China, where major rivers are used for tours and cruises. The incident is the worst on the Yangtze since a tug undergoing sea trials sank in January, killing 22 of the 25 people on board.